Microsoft on Wednesday said it will pipe advertisements into a slate of popular sports video games from Electronic Arts, including its best-selling Madden football franchise.
The deal, which also covers EA's Nascar, Tiger Woods golf, NHL hockey and upcoming Skate skateboarding games, is a significant win for Microsoft as it tries to build an early lead over rivals such as Google in putting ads into video games.
"The real issue here is that we're making a network play. If I just had Madden, while great, it would be of limited value to advertisers," said Cory Van Arsdale, chief executive of Massive, a game ad company that Microsoft bought last year for $200 million.
The deal comes as Massive faces increased competition from Google, which bought game ad service Adscape for a reported $23 million in March, and from privately held companies such as Double Fusion.
"We need to build an overall network, and this is a major stepping point to have us do that," Van Arsdale said in an interview with Reuters.
Massive acts as a broker between companies that want to get their ads in front of gamers and game publishers eager to tap new sources of revenue to offset higher development costs for flashy new titles that can cost $20 million or more to make.
Financial details of the deal were not disclosed. In-game advertising was worth just $50 million in 2005, but that is expected by many analysts and industry executives to balloon to $1 billion over the next few years.
The $30 billion global video game industry is also one of the fastest-growing entertainment sectors, thanks to new home and handheld game machines, and a rush among publishers to win over nontraditional buyers like women and seniors.
The ads Massive delivers are dynamic, meaning that they can be tailored by advertisers to target specific groups or areas. Unlike static ads that are a permanent part of a game, they can be altered quickly to pitch new products.
The deal is also the latest indication of increasingly cozy ties between Microsoft, the world's biggest software company, and EA, the No. 1 independent video game publisher.
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